RICE'S CIAO! CHOW! FESTIVAL UNCORKS SALES OF ITALIAN WINE

HOUSTON -- Rice Food Markets here used a storewide Italian festival to boost sales of its Italian wines.The promotion, held during the retailer's annual "Ciao! Chow!" festival, helped to make Italian wines one of Rice Market's best sellers during the entire third quarter, said Scott Silverman, vice president of specialty foods."During the past three years we have run the promotion we have actually

HOUSTON -- Rice Food Markets here used a storewide Italian festival to boost sales of its Italian wines.

The promotion, held during the retailer's annual "Ciao! Chow!" festival, helped to make Italian wines one of Rice Market's best sellers during the entire third quarter, said Scott Silverman, vice president of specialty foods.

"During the past three years we have run the promotion we have actually upped our movement of Italian wines so much that in the whole quarter five to 10 Italian wines may be in our Top 25 selling wines, compared to the two or three that is normal," Silverman said.

"It is a good way for us to highlight a certain part of our wine department and some of the different varietals that we stock," he added.

Since state laws prohibit Rice from conducting wine tastings, Silverman attributes the increased sales to the heightened level of advertising.

"The Italian wines definitely take over our ads during the promotion," he said, adding that he uses a mix of "old standbys" and new products in the ads. In the store the featured wines are merchandised from floor displays.

Silverman said that while the Ciao! Chow! festival, which ran for five weeks in September and October, has been very effective in moving Italian wines, he is still studying what effect it has had on the entire wine department.

"It probably does shift sales of some of the products to the Italian wines," he said.

This year, Silverman featured more upscale Italian wines. Sangiovese, Barbera and pinot grigio were among the best sellers.

"Our pinot grigio sales are just exploding!" he stressed. "It is a great wine that people are drinking year-round."

Silverman said interest in Italian wines has partly been piqued by Italian restaurants in town that are featuring upper-end Italian wines.

"There may be 10 different restaurants around town that specialize in Italian wines, and some have incredible wine lists. Many of them are $30 or $40 a bottle," he said.

In addition to wine, Ciao! Chow! tied in with the rest of the store, including Center Store, produce, deli and bakery. As a result, Rice moved "container loads" of Italian specialty products during the promotion.

"In the Center Store area, we tied in with pasta, tomatoes, marinara sauces, sun-dried tomatoes, polenta -- all types of products. Italian food is a great category. It is easy to make and everybody likes it," Silverman said.

A key part of the promotion was a tie-in with local restaurants, including a Ciao! Chow! Pasta Cook-Off among 20 local restaurants. The promotion also included personal appearances by noteworthy Italian chefs, over 200 in-store Italian food specialty tastings, cookbook signings, an in-store registration for gift certificates and a grand prize Italian getaway vacation trip that was awarded on Columbus Day.